The 2019-20 EuroLeague Season commences on Thursday. Here are my expectations for the exciting season ahead!
Top-flight European basketball is back! On Thursday, October 3, the EuroLeague will kick off its 2019-20 campaign. 18 teams — up from the 16 they’ve had the past four seasons — will be vying for continental glory, culminating with the Final Four on May 22 and 24 in Cologne, Germany.
With the season in sight, let’s throw out some predictions for how things will shake out. There’s a chance all of these will turn out wrong. Still, it’s fun to make the guesses and then check back at the end of the year to measure what the expectations were against how it unfolded.
Below are my guesses for how the regular season’s final table and the end-of-season awards will turn out. We’ll check back in the spring see if I’m truly clairvoyant.
How do you see the 2019-20 EuroLeague season playing out? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
Your 2020 EuroLeague Champions…
Much like the soccer team, Real is consistently among the top of the standings in European basketball. “Los Blancos” has made seven of the last nine Final Fours, raising the cup in 2015 and 2018 (led by Dallas Mavericks dynamo Luka Doncic).
This year shouldn’t be any different, with most of the team’s core remaining intact. Seven players from the main rotation are 30 years old and up. However, their recent success has shown that age has not affected their production.
That consistency, coupled with the ascendance of point guard Facundo Campazzo and center Walter “Edy” Tavares gives them the solid foundation to weather the tough schedule all the way to Cologne. I think their collective experiences on the big stage will give them the upper hand when the championship is on the line.
The Rest of the Final Four
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
Fenerbahce finished last year in first place with a 25-5 record and the highest average margin of victory in the league. However, they came up short in Final Four, losing to fellow Istanbul side Anadolu Efes. Now, they return with the addition of virtuoso guard Nando de Colo and multi-talented forward Derrick Williams.
Those additions coming to a dominant team that already features 2019 Season MVP Jan Vesely and First Teamer Kostas Sloukas should be enough to crown them 2020 Champions. While I definitely feel they will make it to the final game, something intangible is telling me they will come up short to a team as steady and veteran-saavy as Madrid. Either way, if they meet up in the Final, it will definitely be a great game!
The reigning champions lost some major players over the summer, including De Colo, Cory Higgins, and Sergio Rodriguez. However, they did a pretty good job replacing those vacancies.
Mike James, last year’s Top Scorer, was one of those new additions. Like at his previous stop in Milan, James will be tasked with being this team’s offensive engine. While I don’t think he will — or will have to — score as much as he did to win the Ford Trophy, it should still be tons of fun watching him put up points.
He will also being joined by Final Four MVP Will Clyburn and inside anchor Kyle Hines. Both of them possess the consistent production on both ends of the floor to keep CSKA competing at a high level. Unfortunately, while I think they will still make it to Cologne, their offseason losses are just too big for them to repeat as continental champs.
While historically a top-flight team, Barca fell on hard times recently. They missed the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, the first times since 2005 that they failed to finish in the top eight. Fortunately, they righted the ship in 2019, making the playoffs and pushing eventual runner-up Anadolu Efes to a decisive Game 5.
Now, Barcelona returns in 2019-20 with reinforcements. The headliner was stretch four Nikola Mirotic, back in Europe after five productive years in the NBA. However, they also added fellow NBAer Alex Abrines, 2019 First Team center Brandon Davies from Zalgiris and Cory Higgins — last year’s second-leading scorer — from CSKA.
That makes for a heck of a starting lineup, and I think that will be enough to get them a ticket to Cologne. However, compared to the other three teams, I think they lack the depth to compete when it comes down to the later rounds. Still, “Blaugrana” fans should be excited as their team is set to return to the heights of European hoops.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Shane Larkin‘s hot hand late last season propelled Efes to their first-ever Final Four. I think Larkin will have another big season for the Turkish side, but I don’t think his reinforcements are strong enough to get them back to the final stage.
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
Maccabi made some major changes over the summer, stacking up on several high-level, multi-positional players. They even brought back homegrown talent Omri Casspi after a decade in the NBA. The talent accumulated should be enough to earn them a top eight finish.
Olympiacos will have the unique advantage of playing exclusively in the EuroLeague this season. Due to controversy within their domestic league, The Reds chose to sit their First Team out of Greek League play and register a B Team in the second division instead.
This gives them the chance to focus solely on the 34 games on the EuroLeague schedule. As the year wears on, they will likely be the better-rested team every time they step into the arena. This could be the precursor to the EuroLeague becoming a closed league, only competing against each other. For now, though, it should be enough to get Olympiacos back into the playoffs.
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan
After finishing in the bottom four in each of the last three seasons under the current “league system”, Giorgio Armani‘s team is looking to start a new era of excellence.
Armani brought in four-time EuroLeague champion coach and former San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina to lead the way. He also fortified the backcourt with the additions of Sergio Rodriguez and Shelvin Mack. That type of leadership on and off the court should give Olimpia the upper-hand to reach the top eight for the first time since 2014.
On the Outside Looking In…
Khimki Moscow Region
Khimki features hyper-scorer and playmaker Alexey Shved and a formidable frontcourt featuring Timofey Mozgov, Jonas Jerebko, and Jeremy Evans, among others. However, the lack of guard depth could be a hindrance in the later rounds of the competition.
KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz
Baskonia has a very solid collection of players that should be strong enough to compete for a playoff spot. I think Pierria Henry, Luca Vildoza, Shavon Shields, and Tornike Shengelia all could have the potential to really breakout this year. However, with this expanded field still competing for just eight spots, I’m not sure that potential will be fully realized in time to clinch a playoff berth.
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens
The Greens will be led by All-EuroLeague-caliber point guard Nick Calathes, and that alone should have them in the playoff conversation. The additions of Jimmer Fredette and Wesley Johnson should also help the cause. However, I ultimately think this team as-is lacks the depth to turn that corner and get back into the top eight.
FC Bayern Munich
Greg Monroe was a huge addition for this German side. I feel he has the right skillset to adjust to the EuroLeague style of play and even dominate. This team also has a nice balance of veterans and youth. However, I think Bayern still has a few more steps to go before they are playoff-caliber.
Zalgiris managed to finish within the top eight in each of the last two seasons, including making the Final Four in 2018. Unfortunately, most of the key contributors from those teams are gone. Sarunas Jasikevicius will certainly get his team to compete every game, but they don’t currently have the roster to get them back into the postseason.
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade
Crvena Zvezda is back after a year out of the EuroLeague, and they have brought back a lot of size and experience. Once you pair that with their notorious homecourt advantage, you get a team that should be hard to beat. However, the ceiling feels a little low on this team, and I feel that most of the field will ultimately pass them up in the standings.
The reigning EuroCup champions features a roster of saavy, sharp-shooting guards and floor-stretching bigs. While the team made their share of changes as they moved up a level, the presence of Bojan Dubljevic in the middle, Fernando San Emeterio at the 3, and Sam Van Rossom at the point should help Valencia remain steady against the higher competition.
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Zenit overhauled their roster in time for their EuroLeague debut. The biggest gets were Gustavo Ayon from Real Madrid, EuroCup Finals MVP Will Thomas, and All-EuroCup First Teamer Andrew Albicy. With so much turnover, this team is probably going to need a lot of time to gel. This will likely leave them towards the bottom of the standings at season’s end.
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
A French team is in the EuroLeague for the first time since 2016, when Limoges CSP was the Pro A representative. I think ASVEL will struggle overall, but they have some players that could make a good impression.
2020 NBA Draft prospect Theo Maledon should have his share of “wow” moments. Meanwhile, French guard Edwin Jackson should light up the scoreboard enough to be a contender for the Ford Trophy. Otherwise, I don’t think ASVEL has the depth right now to compete against the rest of the League.
The EuroCup runner-up was able to fight its way back into the top level for the first time since 2015. This team was a scrappy bunch in 2019, dedicated to a brand of floor-spacing small-ball. It helped them finish second in the EuroCup and at home in Germany.
But I think that injuries and their lack of a seven-footer will hurt them as the season goes on. Alba will be without guards Peyton Siva and Stefan Peno and big man Johannes Thiemann for their season opener against Zenit. So what will already be a shaky season is off to a rough start.
Nikola Mirotic, FC Barcelona
Mirotic left the EuroLeague in 2014 as a decorated player, and I think he will pick up where he left off in his return this season. Nikola was good enough to start eight games over the course of the Milwaukee Bucks‘ conference finals run. One can only imagine how well that production is going to port over across the pond.
Edy Tavares, Real Madrid
Nikola Mirotic, FC Barcelona
Nando De Colo, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul
Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Facundo Campazzo, Real Madrid
Brandon Davies, FC Barcelona
Kyle Hines, CSKA Moscow
Derrick Williams, Fenerbahce
Mikes James, CSKA Moscow
Sergio Rodriguez, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan
Alphonso Ford Trophy
Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Reigning Top Scorer Mike James is still going to put up points, but I think his offensive burden will be much less in CSKA’s system than it was in Milan.
Meanwhile, Anadolu Efes will be without Adrien Moerman for much of the season. Therefore, I think Larkin will step up in his absence and consistently deliver the same type of scoring performances that got Efes into the Final Four.
Walter “Edy” Tavares, Real Madrid
It’s hard to go against the 7’3″ guy that has been an elite rim protector for one of Europe’s best teams for the past two years. In a competition like the EuroLeague, there are plenty of defenders that could make a case for the crown. But Tavares is a game-changer.
Edy led the league in blocks last season and was second in 2018. He is also the reason that Real has conceded the lowest 2-point field goal percentage in the competition each of the last two years. Tavares will be called upon to deliver this same type of production on the defensive end in 2020, and I absolutely believe he can and will.
Theo Maledon, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
Considering that 10 of the 12 players to ever receive this award have spent at least some time in the NBA, I decided to consult the 2020 Draft Big Board to see who the league is looking at. There’s Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Theo Maledon of ASVEL.
Considering that Maccabi has greater roster depth, I think Maledon will have more of an opportunity to show off his skills and impress voters. Both players should have their name called on draft night, but I think Maledon will have the better stats at season’s end.